30 June 2010

Skills test

As you know, I have been training to live independently for several months and have learned many new skills. A few of note:

1. I have learned how to stay up way past a normal human's bedtime. In the olden days, I would turn in around 10:30, maybe read until 11:00. Child's play. Now? The foster parents have taught me that life (or their version of it) doesn't really begin until 10:00, and the day really gets going about midnight. This makes the getting up at 6:15am to go for a walk kind of tough, but I've done it, almost every day. In other words, I'm seriously behind on sleep.

2. Thanks to Foster Mom's specific and unwavering instructions, I can now make perfect tea:

a. Bring cold water to a boil. For some kinds of tea, we let it sit for a minute after boiling.
b. Add six scoopies of the good loose tea (all measurements are for the big white pot; other measurements become necessary for the blue and red pots).
c. Pour the water over the loose tea; set the timer for four minutes (five if it's the tea that looks like dried eels).
d. Remove the tea holder thingy from the pot; add four sugar cubes and a quarter cup of 2% milk.
e. Stir with a large chopstick, and pour.

3. Alternatively, I have observed that Diet Coke is an appropriate beverage for any time of day or night or activity. I have declined to participate in this rite (and, by the by, completely gave up drinking soda three months ago).

4. I am powerless in the face of Rustica bittersweet chocolate cookies. While I had always suspected this, the valupacks that enter the group home are dangerous to me. The solution seems to be storing them in the foster parents' bedroom, which I don't enter unless invited so as not to stumble upon the redhotmonkeylovesex.

5. How Was Your Day is the most important activity a family can do together, and every family needs to follow the custom. Every day, no exceptions. The rules are easy: when all the inhabitants are in soft clothes at the end of the busy day, someone asks "How was your day?" And then someone else answers, and conversation ensues.

6. If you have a dirty dish that needs to go in the dishwasher, you should just leave it on the counter, because you'll likely put it in the dishwasher incorrectly. This is a rule I've understood for many years, and am unsure how to apply to an independent living situation.

7. Canadian design shows are far superior to Lower American design shows. In particular, Sarah's House is must-see TV.

8. Friends and neighbors dropping by to chat make life civilized and meaningful. So do good foster parents, and I've had the best.

29 June 2010

A bundle of nerves

I took some time, as some of you have noted, to let my post about, and my memories of Viggo have some room to breathe. And during that time I have been grateful for your kind responses and the ways in which you have reached out to me. These past days have been less about blog as narrative arc and more about blog as community, and I am thankful for those who have surrounded me. Everyone should have that.

When we describe someone as "a bundle of nerves," we aren't being complimentary, are we? Because lordhavemercy that is me this week. My inability to sit still borders on the comical. I do some work, I play the piano, I walk, I run, I waste time on the computer, I daydream. Rinse and repeat. I am filled with equal parts excitement and dread, the upcoming move this weekend stirring in me thoughts about finality and change (thoughts that don't always manage to make sense to me, or represent any sort of cogent story). Even writing a short blog post feels like an impossible task: quick grab some random words out of the ether before they escape! Make sense of them later.


Is change always this rough? If you're a hyper-active guy with mild OCD and a fair amount of anxiety, I suppose. If you've imbued this weekend (or had it imbued for you by circumstance) by Much Portent and Meaning, then certainly. Stick with me: this too shall pass.

21 June 2010

A Remembrance

It is not a joke, or at least not a funny one, when I say that on Sunday of That Week I started a new job, on Tuesday my relationship ended, and on Thursday my dog died. But I can't help but laugh nervously when I recount it, because it's so completely absurd. I have processed (ugh, aren't we so, so, so tired of that word) a lot since then, but I have held a bit at bay. And I know I will cry the entire time I'm writing this, because I already am. It's stupid, I suppose, to force myself to do this, but it's one of the things I told myself I had to accomplish before I could move back to Midtown Lofts. I can't make a new home there until I've said goodbye to what won't be there when I return.

This is Viggo. This is our baby, we'd say. We were a typical childless, indulgent, 21st-century couple when it came to our dog. We spoiled him and talked to him, and talked about him, and took pictures of him, and bought him toys we knew he'd destroy in minutes. We went on long walks and runs with him, and let him offleash to chase bunnies on the greenway and fish at the lake (he could catch neither). He was exuberant and exasperating. He would sit by the side of the bed, his whines turning to full-fledged cries until I would kick up the duvet with my leg and he would hop onto the mattress, curl up and spend the night under the covers, his nose sticking out the foot of the bed only if it was a really warm night. He had no interest in getting up in the morning, and after we took him outside and he ate his breakfast, he was ready to go back under the covers for a couple more hours. After that he was a holy terror for the rest of the day.

Viggo was a very good dog. And he could be a very bad dog (see Indulgent Owners). He was the most beautiful Vizsla anyone had ever seen. He sat absolutely still—like a statue—on the front porch while people walked by, almost all of them commenting on his regal bearing. He howled on the first Wednesday of every month, at 1pm, as the tornado sirens were tested. Because he wasn't much of a howler, his attempts often ended in a cough, and he'd stare at me like it was my fault. Eric enjoyed tying our kitchen towels under his chin like a kerchief, and Viggo became the Polish grandmother we never had. Viggo enjoyed this not at all.

These pictures of him are the first I've looked at since he died, and seeing them is still almost more than I can bear. It will be a while before I can look at the many dozens hundreds of others I have. I can't write about the last few days and weeks of his life, except to say that he was a stunningly active, healthy six-year-old dog and he should still be here with me. His chin should be resting on my arm while I'm typing, and he should be grunting in annoyance while I play with his ears.

As much as I adored Viggo, I won't have another dog for a long time. My heart isn't big enough for another dog, because I still love Viggo so. I sometimes wonder if he knew that life was about to get very complicated, and bowed out gracefully, sparing us the one division of property that would have been impossible. That, besides making me sob uncontrollably (aren't you glad this isn't a video blog?) is also crazy-dog-person talk.

I am grateful for the years I had with my little family, and I miss it more than you can know. Hug your partner, and hug your kids, and hug your dog. There is no cynicism here, nor a clever ending. There is only love.

20 June 2010

Self-imposed blockage

Sometimes blog posts are kind of like sneezes: I can feel them coming on, and when they have to happen, out they come. On the other hand, because I compose a post almost entirely in my head before typing, I spend a lot of time with a particular post, sometimes a few days if it's going to be a particularly self-gazing-at-navel one. So I'm grateful both to Foster Mom and my recent trip to Chicago to taking some pressure off. I've got a big 'un brewing, and it's been tough to think about, much less write about, so I've been holding breath, forcing myself not to sneeze. Crazy, I know, because supposedly this blogging gig is voluntary, but I also know this has to happen so that I can Move On With Purpose and Hopefulness. In the meantime, go read Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, because it's a terrific summer read. I'll be back shortly, with what I hope is one last maudlin bit of treacle so we can all get on with our lives (oh, not to worry, I'll still be right here forever; we have a lot of going forty left to do, much of which I'm sure will be completely embarrassing to me, and therefore wildly entertaining to you).

18 June 2010

Field Notes from the Group Home

I am grateful to Foster Mom for many things, but especially for this, a biography, as it were, of the last few months. With this missive I'd consider us all caught up, ready to move forward. Thanks, DF.

I used to be a sous-blogger, but I had to take a break from the unrelenting demands of that job. Now here I am, once again finding myself with some things to say.

I guess I should get that first week in February out of the way. It started so well on Sunday--the new job was a perfect fit and his debut was (the church version of) a triumph. But then Monday we spent a couple hours . . . hmm . . . discussing our ideas about emotional intelligence, affect regulation, and self-care. (Also timing just how long a person can sob before they have to stop to breathe. I guess I'm a scientist at heart.) Tuesday afternoon Phil moved huge armloads of mess out of our second bedroom, inflated an airbed, and made a little sleeping nest with nice cotton sheets and a pair of down comforters. Tuesday night Scott slept here. Wednesday Viggo was diagnosed with leukemia. Thursday Viggo died. It was so terrible. And so we began this experiment. 


What should we call it? Maybe we're a commune. Or is it more like foster care? Roommates? Or maybe it's assisted living, and we've just installed a PCA to help the old people stay out of a nursing home. Or maybe we're a group home, and our focus is independent living skills. In the first couple weeks we had several "visitors." They all came by with the veneer of a polite social agenda, but I could tell by their clipboards and their questions that we were in the middle of a suitability home study. Electricity? Running water? Pleasing display of accessories in the public spaces? Enough ice cream in the freezer? Wireless access to the cable modem plus expanded channel package? Date of last piano tuning?

The bar is higher when the vulnerable newcomer knows how to use the phone and could call child protection on his own behalf.


After a couple weeks we upgraded from the airbed to a real mattress. That meant moving lots and lots of stuff to make room for the bed. We were also watching the very inspirational "Hoarders" TV show at the time, and were completely motivated to get rid of stuff. We moved some furniture around and had a really full carload for Value Village. Mostly we got rid of books and clothes. We played several rounds of "Is This Cute?" and I tried to be ruthless about not hanging onto the Nos. I did have to do a little workshop for the foster child focused on specific features of black slacks, and how no two pairs meet exactly the same needs.

We learned very quickly that we're well-matched in our ideas about the importance of making your bed every day.


The group home has only one bathroom. Our morning schedules are quite different. However, a naked post-shower sprint from the bathroom to the bedroom is completely visible in the other bedroom. All residents call out "Eyes Closed Time" as they traverse the pass, and "Eyes Open Time" once they're in their spot. Everyone seems quite motivated to participate with the letter and the spirit of this plan, and we've had no breech in protocol.

We've comingled our various products, and I'm completely accustomed now to the enormous cobalt blue container of shaving goo on the rim of the sink. I think it might be a lifetime supply.


For the census, we were three, and discussed at length which category fit us best. I think we went with "unmarried adults living together."


Scott has been warned for several years that he needed to have his freakishly large tonsils taken out. We had a family meeting and agreed that it was time to commit and get it done, (because his life was in such a shambles, he'd barely notice one more crappy thing) so he found a very cute ENT guy and went under the knife on April 7. The tonsils were even worse than the surgeon had anticipated, which seemed to make Scott very proud. Phil and Jacob went along as his next of kin. The official record for April 2010 will be written by me, because he has very little actual memory of that month. The intensity and relentlessness and grip of post-op pain is at least as bad as you've heard. For two weeks he mostly laid in bed and dribbled cherry-flavored liquid opiods down his throat every two hours. Early on he learned to set the timer on his phone and wake himself up for a scheduled dose, because trying to catch up with the pain is nothing but preventable suffering.

The first couple days he could only tolerate broth and apple juice in tiny amounts. He slept a lot, and we had to nudge him to stay hydrated. He was very interested in advancing to ice cream, but learned the hard way that he'd over-estimated his tolerance. He had a visit from a nice friend scheduled, so I left him alone for a few minutes. Two minutes before MK arrived he disgorged Roxicet-tinged Dairy Queen shake in a wide distribution throughout the upstairs. In retrospect, we should have spent more time getting him oriented to our "Commit to the Green Bowl" approach that has served us so well. MK found what she needed and had everything cleaned up by the time I got home a half hour later. How great is that? And for the sake of telling the whole truth, the trail from this bed to the bathroom benefitted from two passes of the Big Green Cleaning Machine a few days later. For a couple weeks we didn't leave him alone. Pink sherbet and real fruit popsicles were his main meal most days.

There were some other effluvial details that are still classified. We will evaluate transcript and photo requests on a need-to-know basis. He did gradually advance to pureed cauliflower soup, but declined almost all baby food. He lost 17# in three weeks, because that's what happens when even water hurts. He turned a corner at about one month post-op, and is almost normal now, though he says singing is still not a sure thing. I think there is a very slight difference in his speaking voice.


He's away from home a lot, but quickly adapted to our ways. Coming home always means putting on soft clothes, and then we do How Was Your Day? We have sensible family dinners and have gotten him hooked on a couple favorite TV shows. We've instituted a rationing plan for Rustica bittersweet chocolate cookies, and some days we stick to it.

He's done quite a bit of gardening, and now it looks like someone lives here. We have a comprehensive anti-bunny program in place, because it didn't work for him to just sit on the front porch and give them the evil eye.

Scott is very attentive to letting us know when he's going to be returning home. At first I thought he just had nice roommate manners. But later I realized he believes that whenever he's gone, the foster parents jump into bed and have redhotmonkeylovesex. This is a source of permanent amusement, and indicates a significant deficit in his reality testing.


A couple weeks ago he went out with a new friend and got home at 11:50, full of stories. The next night he was headed out again and I said, "See you at midnight!" (because what could be funnier than a fake curfew for a 42-year-old?). He objected and said he'd been home 10 minutes early, so he should get 10 extra minutes the next night. Because at that point I was just making shit up, I said, "No carryover minutes in this plan." And he was home before midnight.


On several occasions we've had conversations that explore the differences in 
1.  feeling emotion and expressing it in a way that isn't harmful to self or others (good)
2.  denying or stuffing feelings, keeping secrets, telling lies (bad)
3.  wallowing (bad)

Though he may not exactly know that.

We've also been practicing neutral face. You could probably do very well playing poker against him, because he's got no poker face. None whatsoever.


An hour after he left for Chicago last weekend we had this text message exchange:

Scott:   Hope your week isn't too boring. Do NOT have sex on my bed just to "change it up."
Me: Uh oh.
Scott: Get out of my room!!!!!!!


More than anything, it's been like living in the dorm. Easy and fun. And now it's winding down. I told somebody yesterday that he's leaving before I need him to, and isn't that a good way to start the next chapter?

15 June 2010

Hello for real

I can't believe you allowed yesterday's indulgent post to sneak past. I'm fine, and apologize for the lazy blip.

Hello from Chicago, a city I'm quite certain I was meant to live in someday (not soon; worry not, locals). I am on retreat, not from life, but for work. After a whirlwind start at work a few months ago, I'm taking some time to plan ahead for the upcoming program year. It feels like a great luxury, and I'll be much better at my job as a result. That I've been accompanied here by another musician almost as talented as me is a great help and comfort.

What should you know? I'm chomping at the bit to try independent living, even as I mourn the loss of the comfort and security that the group home has provided (ugh, let's rewrite that sentence). I'm trying to extend runs enough that I finish the Minnesota Half Marathon in August with something resembling my dignity intact. Some of my planned travel has been pared down, both with and without my input, which makes me look forward to certain trips even more. Also, to all you venture capitalists, I have a great idea for a promising invention: the customer visualizes fabric in his mind, and your machine/doohickey/thingamajig spits it out exactly as imagined. Brilliant!

We'll resume some steps in the Glorious Ascent after my return. In the meantime, we enjoy Ms. Earth's first sputtering attempts at summer. She is evidently new at this, and doesn't quite understand how it works.

14 June 2010


Last time I stood at this spot, I was 34 and newly—madly—in love.
Today I'm 42 and newly single. Up, down, forward, backward, pause.
I see a sign for pie.

08 June 2010

The Glorious Ascent: Mandate #5

In many ways the mandate marking the halfway point of the Ascent is more like a peak. Most of the other gentle suggestions are in service to:

Good Housekeeping.

Not the struggling-to-be-relevant-shelter-magazine-before-shelter-magazines-existed-fourteen-deep-on-the-newsstand kind of Housekeeping. No, I'm talking about home: finding one, making one, keeping one, sharing one, being content in one. Readers who have stuck with me for any time at all know that my obsession compulsion interest in where I live, where other people live, how we dwell in a space, and what we surround ourselves with in said space borders on the ridiculous. I'm sure the deep-seated psychological reasons for this will be revealed by some shrink stumbling on Going40, but I've had more than one partner/friend/concerned citizen roll his eyes as I recite Benjamin Moore's color deck like a rosary. Huh—I just reread that bit. That such a treasure is single is maybe not so surprising?

Anyhoo. Given the little events of the last few months and the attendant group home experience (the licensing for which, by the by, must be incredibly lax), figuring out where to live next (and for some version of forever) has been my overarching concern. I'll spare you the legal considerations and the market and economic implications (here's a clue: we bought high and now we live in the U.S. in 2010). Beyond that, it has taken some months to figure out what I even wanted to come next: could I just keep living forever with loving, generous friends (that will be its very own blog post someday); would I rent for awhile, retreating from real life for a bit, to regroup and prepare to land somewhere down the road; would I find a little house to make my own as I aged into the 80-year-old lady I seem destined to become? All three options have some most attractive components. And, I suppose, some downsides. A responsible bloggist would have put the options to his readership for a vote; instead, I changed my mind each day, spent a staggering amount of time scouring MLS listings online, and wondered to myself (Self? I asked) if a commute to a farm in southwest Minnesota was practical.

In the end, I've come full circle, and am surprised (and so, so, so terrified) to find that the best new home for me is one I never really wanted to leave. Later this summer I'll be making what was once ours, mine. I'm thrilled to contemplate living in a space I love, with friends I adore, in a part of town that is deeply home. Can I afford it? No (that's why we'll have Mandate #6). But I also can't afford not to (again, see U.S. Market Conditions, 2010). And I'm ready: to be on my own, to create a spot that is just so (and to learn when to let go of that little tic), to have a place to be with friends old and new. Duh: to keep a home.

And in answer to the inevitable queries: Gray Clouds, Modern Gray, Spalding Gray*, Lemongrass, and Glowing Firelight.

*It's true that I had no choice but to choose this color when I saw the name. Fortunately, it's my favorite of the bunch.

07 June 2010


Sometimes you don't write/call/text/IM/stop by/say hi, because you've been busy—as foster mom would say—having a life. Sometimes you don't have much to say. Sometimes you're in a foul mood and don't want to bring it to anyone else. Sometimes you don't care about mandates and going forward at all. Sometimes you just want to stew in the present—and maybe a little in the past—to remind yourself that there is still some major suckage going on. Sometimes reading someone else's writing is way more gratifying than conjuring up your own (see Perry, Michael). Sometimes you have to think about the play you went to or the movie you saw or the novel you read and wonder why the bad behavior of others counts as entertainment. Sometimes you go for a walk and wonder when real life is going to begin, and then realize oh my god it already has and this is it. Sometimes you listen to sublime music and realize you can do that, too. Sometimes you look at someone and think, really? Sometimes the rainbow isn't enough, and besides, you're not a colored girl. Sometimes your hands are in the dirt and it's warm and moist in a good way. Sometimes the suburbs seem fine. Sometimes having something taken away helps you focus on more important things—like cheese. Sometimes getting there is less than half the fun.

03 June 2010

The Glorious Ascent: Mandate #4

Hubris requires that I make up a word.

Tread Lightlier.

When I move into permanent housing on July 1 (again with the foreshadowing; can you believe what a fine writer I am? Mandate #5 can't come soon enough for you), I will be doing so without a car. While shared custody of Ingrid the Gas-Sucking Swede has gone just fine, I have long harbored a desire to live in a city and experience it without the crutch of a car. Now, make no mistake, we're not dealing with unbridled noblesse oblige here. I'm about to be stone cold broke, and not having a car is going to save me a lot of money I don't have. But also? I will be living in one of the densest parts of the city, working in another, both well served by public transportation, and for the coming months at least, an easy bike ride apart from each other. What's more, when I absolutely need a car, I'll be living a few blocks away from an Hour Car station: I can buy a lot of hours for the costs of car payments, gas, and insurance.

I often hear complaints that this city isn't dense enough to support life without a car, and maybe that will prove true for me, but I won't know until I try it. I believe that we can't make the city be what we want it to be without taking some steps to make it so. This is a shaky, baby step, by only one person, but maybe my pathetic little step will join other pathetic little steps and have an impact on sustainable urban development. If nothing else, I will be forced to make focused decisions about how and where I shop, where I spend entertainment dollars, and how I spend my time. I  will also get a lot of reading done on the bus (and to know me is to know that reading time is always in too-short supply). And maybe, just maybe, I'll never. have to go. to the suburbs. again.

02 June 2010

We're in public, people

Bad bus ride: four people talking loudly on their cellphones, which is not okay. The guy closest to me chose to have this conversation, loudly, and glared at me every time I glanced his way.

Too Gay to Function: But you need to give me a reason!
Saint on other end: ____
TGTF: It's not enough to just tell me no, because I'll just keep asking.
SOOE: ____
TGTF: But I don't want to pressure you.
SOOE: ____
TGTF: But if I really want to do it and you just say you don't want to without giving me a reason that just makes me feel bad.
SOOE: ____
TGTF: I want to decide together, so this feels equal.
SOOE: ____
TGTF: Fine, but don't expect me to just do it the next time you want to.
Angry disconnect of iPhone. Another glare at Going40, who, mercifully, had only a block left of his ride.

They shall be called my disciples.